A self-confessed "clothing addict" who also wrote for Vogue, Heimel bears more than a striking resemblance to Carrie Bradshaw, the clotheshorse sex and relationship columnist depicted by Bushnell in "Sex and the City," a 1997 book that was overshadowed by its HBO incarnation — a hit TV series that now also appears to be a lucrative big-screen franchise.
Rather than going the TV or movie route, Heimel opted for the stage. In the mid-'80s she wrote the play "A Girl's Guide to Chaos," which ran in New York in 1986 and has been produced around the country since.
Watching the current Dragon Productions take on Heimel's "Chaos," it's hard not to think about Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, the glittering, frank-talking quartet at the center of "Sex and the City."
Though Heimel's frank-talking trio of 30-something women — Cynthia, Rita and Cleo — sat around the cafe table exchanging intimate details of their active sex lives more than a decade before the more famous quartet, you hear certain lines about oral sex or bad boyfriend behavior and think, "Well, that's a completely Samantha thing to say."
The main character of "A Girl's Guide to Chaos" is Cynthia (Magenta Brooks), a Los Angeles columnist with a deep love of fashion magazines. Her best friends are tough-talking transplanted Texan Rita (Kim Saunders) and scientifically minded Cleo (Lorie Goulart), who is described as "a nut burger but adorable."
These are modern women navigating the dating waters of 1990. They're empowered by the women's lib movement of the '70s but confused about what to do with all their so-called power because the men in their lives, it seems, haven't evolved as much as they have.
When the play starts, Cynthia is the only one of the women with a boyfriend. He's a young New Zealander — called "the Kiwi Infant" — and he's not great boyfriend material. Looking for trouble, Cynthia opens his mail and discovers a questionable situation with another woman.
That's about it for plot in this two-hour comedy directed by Bill Starr. Heimel is more interested in pointed vignettes than she is in delving into the intricacies of plot or character development.
Though the cast, which also includes Denise Berumen as a motor-mouthed waitress and a game Noel Wood as all the men in the play, works hard to bring sass to Heimel's dialogue, the actors aren't able to uncover much heart in Heimel's arch writing.
It's hard to care about these women and their dating woes when none of them comes across as terribly likable. The only real affecting moment in the play comes from Saunders' Rita when she essentially tells Brooks' Cynthia to stop her whining and measure the success of her life on her own terms and not on whether or not she has a boyfriend.
The material, not surprisingly, shows its age. When one of the women makes an offhand remark about the movie "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane," you really have to delve into the memory bank to recall that 1990 Andrew Dice Clay vehicle. And the line "You want peppy? Go date Lucie Arnaz!" is just baffling on every level.
Heimel's strength as a playwright comes in her ability to write the occasional line that makes you snap to attention. For instance, Cleo describes the scent of a particular man as being like "really tiny, fresh lima beans and cotton candy."
And sometimes the lines elicit big laughs. In the depths of dating despair, Cynthia moans, "I don't know whether to kill myself or go bowling."
Cynthia's best advice comes from a surprising source: herself. She decides that the best way to handle any dating dilemma with style instead of neurosis involves recalling a great old movie star. "When in doubt," she says, "act like Myrna Loy."
It's brilliant advice, actually, and it's a shame she doesn't take it more to heart.
Though "A Girl's Guide to Chaos" came first, it takes a backseat to "Sex and the City," which is funnier, raunchier and ultimately more heartfelt. With all her experience in the sex advice trenches, and with such wonderfully titled books as "Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Goodbye" and "If You Can't Live Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead Yet?" it's highly probable that Heimel could write a much more interesting and much more contemporary take on women, sex and relationships than this dated "Chaos."
What: "A Girl's Guide to Chaos" by Cynthia Heimel, presented by Dragon Productions
Where: Dragon Theatre, 535 Alma St., Palo Alto
When: Through Aug. 9 with shows at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sundays
Cost: Tickets are $20 general and $16 for seniors and students.
Info: Go to www.dragonproductions.net or call 650-493-2006.
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